Most Important Packing List, Ever

Dear Future volunteers (or long-trip travelers),

I present you with the only packing list you’ll ever need! It doesn’t matter what country you are going to – Panama, Zimbabwe, Ukraine – this is the list that will get you through 27 months of any conditions the Peace Corps will throw your way.


Naturally you will want clothes that are built for traveling. Donate all your clothes to Goodwill and take yourself, and your entire bank account, down to REI and stock up on wrinkle-free, quick drying everything!


Cargo pants – the pockets will be nice to hold your compass and hunting knife.
Button down shirts – business casual and conservative. 7 colors for the 7 days of the week.
Underwear – spring for the $20 pairs to ensure they last all 2 years.
Hiking socks – extra thick for comfort and protection.

You’ll be outside all day, every and really you only need two types of shoes. While at REI take a stroll down the shoe aisle…


Hiking boots – above ankle, water proof, heavy duty. Spring for steel toed if you can $$$.
Chacos – these will be your best friend even if you think they’re ugly and talk bad about them behind their back.

Two years worth of everything!

toiletriesTwo years worth of toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner, tampons, razors, hand sanitizer, blah, blah, blah.

Did you write all that down? DID YOU?! Good… now throw it all away.

The reality of packing for the Peace Corps is that you’re not going to find the perfect packing list. You WILL search for it… I did. You’ll spend weeks trying to pinpoint it. You’ll read through every blog out there for your country and find about 100 variations of what to bring. The Peace Corps does include a packing list in your country welcome book – some of it will be useful, some of it won’t. The PC list in generated by previous volunteers but it’s unsure when these volunteers served and some aspects of their suggestions feel very outdated. Plus the list is so long there’s no way you’ll fit everything in your luggage limit (they even state this at the beginning of the list).

So how do you know what to pack for two years in the Peace Corps? You don’t, really. Even if you know the country you are going to you don’t know what your exact site will be like – you won’t know until you get there. Your site can be an extreme opposite from the next volunteers. All in one country you can have sites that are extremely rural with no water or electricity, in the middle of the dessert, or sites in bigger towns with western toilets and shopping centers, with humid climates.  There’s just no sure fire way to prepare yourself.

Rather than a list of things you should bring, here is a list of packing strategies that should be helpful in any country you are preparing to serve in:

  • Take others’ packing list as suggestions. If the list was written after the volunteer has already been serving for a while it could be a valuable resource. These types of lists often include items that you can and can’t find around that person’s site – and they sometimes state if items can be found in the capital or bigger cities.
  • Don’t pack as if you’re going camping for two years. Take a look at pictures of natives in the capital city? Are they decked out in cargo pants and wrinkle resistant shirts? Probably not. If they can live day to day life without these items so can you. While these items can be useful, you should also bring plenty of clothing items you’d wear at home.
  • Research local culture and traditions. It’s very possible you’re going to a country that culturally has gender-specific clothing roles. While you should bring what you like, make sure these items are appropriate. If it’s not acceptable to show below the knee bring longer pants for the public and shorts for the comfort of your home. Respecting the culture is an extremely important part of integration.
  • Consider climate and environment. Know if the environment is normally warm or cold, rainy or dry, dusty or clear. You should pack for a variety of conditions, but cater to the one that is most extreme. It’s very possible there’s hot days and cold nights or it’s extremely cold outside all the time but indoor it’s always kept warm – pack layers!!!
  • Pack for yourself, not others. While suggestions are great, ultimately you want to bring things that YOU think will be valuable. If you don’t enjoy hiking, don’t go out and buy super bulky, durable, expensive hiking boots. If like to wear makeup, bring some for days you feel you need a pick-me-up. You have two bags to fill for two years worth of living – use that space for things you will actually use and want.
  • “You can always have things sent to your later” – a phrase many volunteers will tell you. Sending packages is spendy and sometimes questionable if they will arrive, but it can be done. If you get to your site and decide you need something, have someone send it to you. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few items at home already packaged and ready to send if you have a feeling you might want them. And if you’re really concerned about the price of sending packages, leave some money that will cover the cost for the sender.


If you have any topics or questions  you’d like me to cover before I leave or while in Ethiopia please leave let me know in the comments.

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How to Keep Up With Me

vanThe curse of someone in the marketing and advertising fields is the bitter sweet urge to stay on top of your stuff.

BITTER: Feeling obligated to know how to use all the social media outlets, whether you like them or not.

SWEET: Feeling like you naturally have the ability to keep up with the people and things you love.

BONUS: Your coworkers won’t judge you for taking selfies at work for Instagram 😉

I’m not sure what social media outlets I will have access to while in Ethiopia… so you might as well follow me on all of them! 

I hope to have blog posts written ahead of time so I will be able to load them when I have internet. For quick life updates I will use whatever is the most convenient – this means that if I cannot connect accounts, some might be missing updates. So if you’re interested in seeing what I’ve been up to (I’m interested in what you’ve been up to) go ahead and follow me on my obligatory social media sites.

Instagram: AllisonFromPortland
YouTube: AllisonFromPortland (I’ve never uploaded a video but hope to from Ethiopia)
AllisonFromPDX (I’ve never used this account but it might be useful, why not be my first follower?)

I’ll respond to anything sent to:

I will only add you if I personally know you regularly talk to you:
Skype: AllisonFromPortland 

For those of you who want to send me letters and packages you can send them to this address for my first three months in country (February – April). Once I am assigned an official town to live in I will have a new address and will update this post.

Allison Adams
U.S. Peace Corps/Ethiopia
P.O. Box 7788
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

And as always you can subscribe to my blog for e-mails sent when I write a post.

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How to Save Travel Money

First things first, create a budget. Use the “if this, then that” method:

If I make this much per month, and plan to save x amount, then I have that amount left for expenses”


Say you make $1,000 a month. And you want to save $100 a month for travel. Then you have $900 a month left for expenses – ONLY $900, never  more. It sounds silly because it’s such an obvious thing to do, but when  you really think about it do you actually budget? I am definitely guilty of  being that person who thinks they’re keeping track of expenses in their head and then goes into complete shock when their bank statement comes the next month.

You have your budget, now figure out your expenses each month – factor in:


Phone plan
Extras – cable, netflix, social outings

Consider which of those you need and which ones you can reduce, or even better – eliminate.

As a Peace Corps volunteer you know that you will be gone for at least 27 months – consider what you will want to keep while you’re away and what you can start cutting back on immediately.

  • RENT: If you own a home, you have a bit more to think of. If you’re only renting, consider not renewing your rent at the end of your contract and move in with someone who is willing to house you for a much cheaper rate. If you can move back with your parents – DO THIS! This is not an easy thing for your ego to do, but this will eliminate a ton of financial responsibility and you will get to spend some quality time with the people who love you most before you leave. If you can’t move in with your parents, ask around your friends to see if anyone is looking for a temporary roommate at a low cost – it won’t kill you to live in your friends basement for a few months.
  • TRANSPORTATION: Insurance and gas adds up pretty quickly no matter where you live. Cancel your car insurance and sell your car if you can. If you live in a city with public transportation consider commuting by bus or train. This may add more time on to your commute but you can use that time to read or listen to music… just don’t fall asleep and miss your stop. Even more cost efficient than public transportation, walk or bike – not only will you save money, but you get a great work out and can clear your mind after a long day.
  • FOOD: You can’t cut out food, you gotta eat. Set a strict food allowance. Avoid putting all of aisle 3 in your cart by eating before you go grocery shopping. If you want to eat organic, cut out spendy Whole Foods and shop at Trader Joe’s. Put all those groceries to good use and skip buying lunch during the work week, bring your lunch from home and eat outside for some fresh air. And one that most 20-somethings forget about – cut coupons! If you think cutting coupons is for grandma check out Extreme Couponing.
  • PHONE PLAN: Get rid of that unlimited texting and use a free texting service like WhatsApp.



  • End your cable contract and find your shows online at HuluYouTube, and network websites.
  • You can cut back on eating, drinks, and movies out by having a night in with friends but if you insist on getting out of the house use Groupon and LivingSocial.
  • NO MORE STARBUCKS! When I graduated college and didn’t have to pass those three Starbucks on the way to class I quickly noticed I had more spending money. I was saving easily $30 a month by brewing my own coffee.
  • Use sites like Ebay or Craigslist to sell items you won’t need anymore. Check out consignment shops in your area to see if you can get some extra cash for clothing you haven’t worn in a while.

Save even more:
One of the best money saver secrets I have ever been told is to use cash only. Using debit or credit you can easily rack up your spending without even noticing. Using cash and actually having to hand over the money forces you to think about how much money is physically leaving your wallet . Pull out a certain amount of cash per week or month and when it’s gone it’s and there’s no more spending.

My favorite way to save money is a cash jar. Every time I use cash and get a $5 bill back I put it in the jar. You don’t have to pick $5 but make it a bill that is common to get back as change. This is probably one of the fastest ways I have found to save money. It becomes such a habit you don’t even think about it after a while.

So, what did we learn?

Probably nothing. For the most part these tactics are all pretty much common sense but if you’re anything like me it’s nice to be reminded of them. On a daily basis you don’t really think about all the transactions you make, how much each little thing costs, and the opportunity cost of your spending habits. If you’re saving up for a trip, the best advice I can give is to come up with a game plan and be disciplined, don’t stray from it unless there is an emergency.